Democrats gear up for national convention in Charlotte
CHARLOTTE — Democrats took the keys to the Time Warner Cable Arena on Monday morning, a major step in transforming the Queen City into a national stage for their convention heralding President Barack Obama’s re-election bid.
500: Approximate number of seats being removed from Time Warner Cable Arena to make room for the stage, podium and TV cameras.
20: Miles of cable being installed.
$7 million: Approximate cost of the work to convert the arena into a political hall and back again by late September.
$36.5 million: Approximate total budget for the Democratic National Convention’s host committee for the Charlotte event.
98: Percent of the construction work that remains to be done (work started a few days ago).
49: Days left until the Democratic National Convention begins.
It remains to be seen if those keys can unlock more success for the party just over the South Carolina state line.
During the next seven weeks, about 200 workers will convert the home of the Charlotte Bobcats NBA team into a home base for one of this year’s biggest political events, the Sept. 3-6 Democratic National Convention.
Their work ultimately will be seen close up by people from the Carolinas and millions more watching on TV around the nation and world.
And South Carolina activists in both major parties are expected to flock north this year, not only for the convention but also to campaign in a state where the presidential race is much closer than what they find at home.
N.C. in play, but not S.C.
Among those excited about the convention setting up shop so close is Richard Hricik, chairman of the Charleston County Democratic Party.
“It shows Democrats are making inroads into traditional Southern states where they don’t have much of a history,” he said Monday. “I think it’s significant.”
Obama and the Democrats chose Charlotte last year. It’s the biggest city in a state they narrowly won in 2008 — the first time a Democratic presidential candidate won there since Jimmy Carter in 1976.
While Obama narrowly beat Republican John McCain there four years ago, analysts and polls give presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney the edge in North Carolina so far, said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics.
“But the message being sent is that Obama is going to fight for every square inch of ground he carried in 2008,” Sabato added. “There are some analysts who think Democrats might pull it out in North Carolina again, and we’ll see.”
He noted Obama’s holding his 2008 convention in Denver is believed to have helped him break the GOP’s recent lock on Colorado. Sabato said that state’s growth in Democratic-leaning Hispanic voters probably played a bigger role, “but I’m sure the convention helped Obama somewhat in winning that state.”
State Rep. David Mack III, D-North Charleston, said buses of Democrats already are trekking from South Carolina to North Carolina to work in that state.
“Unfortunately, South Carolina has been deemed one of those states not in play,” he said. “Historically, it’s a very red (Republican) state. It’s going to be interesting that a lot of manpower and resources will be focused on our neighbors to the north. I think South Carolina is a work in progress.”
Republicans, who also are gearing up their convention hall in Tampa, Fla., also will send campaign volunteers from South Carolina to North Carolina and other swing states, S.C. GOP Chairman Chad Connelly said.
“I think he (Obama) loses North Carolina, too,” Connelly said. “He won there in the slimmest of margins, but he’s not going to get the turnout he had four years ago. … President Obama ran as a uniter and as a centrist, and he’s governed as a hard leftist.”
Revving up the base
The Democratic Party hopes to make this convention one of the most accessible ever, with a Labor Day street party in downtown Charlotte, where attendees can visit the caucus meetings in the arena — and with 10,000 public credentials for Obama’s big Thursday night acceptance speech in the neighboring Bank of America Stadium. Details on applying for those will be released within a few weeks.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the convention chairman, alternated between English and Spanish in answering press questions Monday, and he vowed the convention will be “as accessible as possible.”
“That’s why we are opening and closing the convention with events that are open to the public,” he said. “You know how many open events that there will be at the Republican presidential convention in Tampa? Zero.”
James Davis, spokesman for the GOP National Convention, said it has robust social media efforts to reach out and include the public. The party also moved into the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Monday to begin its work there.
“We planned a convention-without-walls theme here,” he said. “You can only fit so many people into a venue, and we want to make sure we create an engaging and exciting convention for people who are outside of Tampa, who are across the country.”
Before the Democrats’ big event Monday, the party held a recent Twitter competition and selected 20 everyday people Monday from the Southeast for a special behind-the-scenes tour and “Tweet Up.”
Rashon Carraway of Rock Hill, who owns a design and lifestyles business and has about 4,500 followers on Twitter, said he tweeted all morning to pass along convention details as he learned them.
“I have to be careful not to inundate my full list with stuff they might not be interested in,” he added.
As for the $6.5 million project to convert the Time Warner Cable Arena into a world-class political stage, the greatest challenge is running the several miles of additional electrical and cable lines into the building, said Theo LeCompte, chief operating officer with the convention.
“If that’s not right, then we don’t get on TV,” he said.
Reach Robert Behre at 937-5771.